Congleton’s MP Fiona Bruce is a fine person in many ways, but I don’t always agree with her and such was the case yesterday (30 Nov), when she raised concerns with a vicar’s daughter about the rights of Christians to talk about their faith.
She told Prime Minister Theresa May (her dad was a vicar) that Christians were “worried or even fearful” about mentioning their faith in public and at work, and called for an iteration of the principle that this country guarantees freedom of religion and speech.
Her comments followed a report from the equality commissioner that apparently elucidates this fear, though a summary on christian.org.uk does not say this: it says the commissioner was critical of people dropping references to Christianity because of a fear of causing offence. There’s a difference between working for a company whose HR department’s brains are out to lunch and actually being fearful.
There seem to be two issues here.
The first — and I hope that this is not what Mrs Bruce was getting at — is that Muslims are upset by references to Christmas. This is not true.
The Muslim Council of Britain put out a statement this week, I assume to pre-empt social media posts by numpties that “they” had banned Christmas trees or some such nonsense.
Said the council: “Some Muslims will join in (the) celebrations, remembering that Jesus was an important Prophet of Islam. Others will not join. Very few Muslims will be offended at the celebrations taking place, and no one should be obliged to change their celebrations at risk of offending Muslims”. That’s clear enough.
The second issue is whether this lack (or fear) of discussion in polite society is anything new, and whether people’s unwillingness to talk about religion is really down to an age-old mix of reasons: being boring, being mocked and started an awkward row. The old saying “never talk about religion or politics” is, well, old.
Many people have turned their back on religion, as can be seen by the news this week that the parish of Congleton is changing how it operates, and three churches will no longer be used for regular meetings.
So, you’d no more want someone banging on about God than about CB radio while you’re trying to avoid working that last half hour before lunch, or enjoying a quiet pint.
Granted, religion is different than other things people get up to in their spare time: the obvious source of the “never talk about” saying is that politics and religion can cause conflict. Both can be associated with strong convictions, and may lead to heated arguments. Not the thing you want over the office water cooler or down the pub.
Of course, you could take Christians who don’t speak out to task: “What kind of Christian are you, eh?” Jesus said: “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation,” so Christians should constantly be proselytising.
Anyone who is convinced they have found everlasting life would only be doing their duty to spread that message to others. If a few people badmouth you for so doing, try harder.
But that criticism would be harsh. The fact is, no one really cares who believes and who doesn’t; they no more want to hear talk of God than babble about how rational atheism is.
It’s not persecution that prevents the office chat turning to whether non-trinitarianism is the correct reading of the scriptures, it’s the fact that most people aren’t bothered. Church attendances are falling through apathy, not antipathy though, as this column has pointed out, more people go to church at weekends than watch football (and that’s Church of England, not counting all the rest).
So: on the whole I find it hard to believe that there is widespread verbal persecution of Christians in the workplace or outside of it. The Chronicle started a church page a while back, and while churchgoers appreciate it, we’ve not had a single complaint from anyone that we’re openly printing Christian views.
You’ll notice I’ve written several hundred words and not mentioned my own beliefs: that’s because it’s personal to me. I don’t want to get in a debate about it, I don’t want to think people I’m forcing them to think my way or conversely have to defend my beliefs. It’s nobody’s business but mine but I’m not being persecuted and if I did want to talk about it, I’d be more worried about boring people than being attacked.
So, in the season of goodwill, remember this: no-one of any substance is trying to stop Christmas. If you read of claims that this is so, they’re either not true or because of a petty jobsworth, not outside forces.
Happy Christmas. Bah Humbug.